The Turnbull Government today moved to give greater housing security to low-income households in social housing, introducing legislation to help them keep on top of their rent and avoid eviction.

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter said the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Housing Affordability) Bill 2017 includes a new Automatic Rent Deduction Scheme (ARDS) to help social housing tenants pay their rent on time and avoid eviction through rent default.

“In 2013-14, more than 8,900 social housing tenants, including families with children, were in serious rental arrears, with more than 2,300 people evicted by local housing authorities due to rent defaults,” Minister Porter said.

“This is obviously a serious situation for those families affected by rent arrears and evictions.  It also places enormous strain on local support and homelessness services and all too often can lead to people, including families with children, sleeping rough.

“Through ARDS, social housing tenants would have their rent and other housing costs automatically paid to their social housing provider out of their welfare payment, ensuring their housing costs are met every fortnight.”

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge said the ARDS was expected to be available from March next year, and would build on Centrelink’s current Rent Deduction Scheme (RDS).

“RDS is voluntary and easy to bypass—ultimately failing both tenants and social housing providers,” Minister Tudge said.

“For example in 2013-14, around 80,000 households in social housing stopped their voluntary deductions at some time during the year which put them at greater risk of falling behind in their rent.

“State and territory governments tell us that the social housing system is losing more than $30 million annually from unpaid rent and related administrative costs.

“This is money that could be re-invested into social housing and further, such losses make social housing less attractive to private investment.

“The ARDS will be available for state and territory governments to implement and as well as rent, it can be used to deduct utilities that are part of a social housing lease.

“We have already secured the agreement of New South Wales, Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia to be part of the scheme and we hope other states will follow their lead to ensure the housing security provided by the ARDS is available right across the country.”

The Bill also includes amendments to the National Rental Affordability Scheme Act 2008 (NRAS Act) to improve the scheme’s administration.

NRAS aims to increase the supply of new and affordable rental dwellings by providing financial incentives to housing providers for up to 10 years to keep rents for properties 20 per cent below market rate.

Amendments proposed in this Bill clarify some ambiguous provisions in the NRAS Act such as rental vacancy periods and allow for the transfer of NRAS allocations from one property to another to limit reductions in housing stock available through the Scheme.  These measures will strengthen and simplify the future operation of the Scheme until it ceases operation in 2026.